When we suffer a bereavement our thoughts, feelings and experiences can be mixed and confusing. Sometimes we can feel overwhelmed by our feelings or we may be concerned that we are not feeling much at all or feel numb. We can feel stuck and feel unable to move forward and may be unable or unwilling to talk to others about how we feel.
How we respond to a bereavement is a very individual and personal thing, so one person may react completely differently to another which can also cause confusion and lead to misunderstandings.
There is no “right” way to grieve or mourn after a bereavement and there is no set pattern or time limit. Everyone’s experience is different and our reactions will depend on our past, our relationship with the person we have lost and the circumstances surrounding the bereavement.
One of the most frequently asked questions I hear from clients is, “Is what I’m thinking/feeling/doing normal?” … to which the answer is generally “Yes”. I often hear clients say things like:
“I still can’t believe it, after all this time”
“I don’t feel anything” or “I feel numb”
“I can’t stop crying, I cry at the smallest thing”
“I don’t seem to be able to cry at all”
“Why did this happen?”
“I keep going over what happened”
“If only…” – you may regret things you said or didn’t say, things you did or didn’t do.
“I just feel down and tired all the time”, people report having trouble sleeping, or sleeping too much;
“Life has no meaning, I’m not sure I want to go on”
“I thought I saw her the other day, but it turned out to be a stranger – am I going mad?”
“I look for him in crowds, thinking I might see him – what’s wrong with me?”
“People say I should be over it by now, should I? I feel ashamed of how I feel.”
“I get so angry at the slightest thing, then I burst into tears”
“I think people are tired of hearing about it, so I don’t talk about it to them any more, but it still hurts.”
All of which are perfectly normal reactions to a bereavement. The grief we feel can be intense and devastating or we can feel numb, or anything in between. The above is not an exhaustive list, but I hope it will offer some reassurance if you or a loved one are experiencing any of these things that there’s nothing wrong with you or them, these are normal reactions.
Bereavement can also raise unresolved issues or painful memories from earlier in our life, even from our childhood. This can be distressing as we struggle to cope with these difficult memories and feelings. We may also have to deal with practical issues and take on new responsibilities which we had not planned for as a result of a bereavement. We may be faced with making significant decisions or changes in our life which we may not feel ready for. It all takes time and energy at a time when we are already at a low ebb and can feel too much to cope with.
We can also be affected by the reactions of other people, who may not know the best thing to say or do. Death is still a taboo subject and many people may say nothing or avoid a bereaved person completely for fear of saying or doing the wrong thing, which can feel very isolating. Other people may say things with good intentions which seem dismissive or hurtful. Or they may try to help us feel better by urging us to do things we are not ready to do yet, for example dispose of possessions or move house, and inadvertently make us feel more distressed or cause us to feel shame as a result.
How can bereavement counselling or therapy help?
Many clients have said that they find it helpful to talk to someone who is not directly involved with the situation, who has no agenda and whose feelings you don’t have to look after. It can be a relief to be able to talk openly about what you are experiencing following a bereavement – in many cases clients tell me it is the first time that they have been able to say certain things out loud to anyone.
Following my own experiences of bereavement many years ago I trained with Cruse Bereavement Care, that was the start of my journey to training as a counsellor and psychotherapist. Over the years since then I have worked with many bereaved clients of different ages, cultures, genders and backgrounds. I will not judge or pressurise you and you don’t have to look after me or worry about my feelings. You can talk openly about your thoughts, feelings, actions and any uncomfortable, unusual or frightening sensations that you might be experiencing. My role is to listen and help you to make sense of and cope with what you’re experiencing so that you can find a way forward at a pace that’s right for you.